seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

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The Bombing of Nelson’s Pillar

nelsons-pillar-bombingA powerful explosion destroys the upper portion of Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin in the early morning hours of March 8, 1966, bringing Nelson’s statue crashing to the ground amid hundreds of tons of rubble. All that is left of the Pillar is a 70-foot high jagged stump. The pillar is seen by many as an anachronistic monument to English occupation of Ireland, especially as 1966 is the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Nelson’s Pillar is a large granite column capped by a statue of Horatio Nelson, built in the centre of what is then Sackville Street (later renamed O’Connell Street) in Dublin. It is completed in 1809 when Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. Its remnants are later destroyed by the Irish Army.

The decision to build the monument is taken by Dublin Corporation in the euphoria following Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The original design by William Wilkins is greatly modified by Francis Johnston, on grounds of cost. The statue is sculpted by Thomas Kirk. From its opening on October 29, 1809 the Pillar is a popular tourist attraction, but provokes aesthetic and political controversy from the outset. A prominent city centre monument honouring an Englishman rankles as Irish nationalist sentiment grows, and throughout the 19th century there are calls for it to be removed, or replaced with a memorial to an Irish hero.

During the Easter Rising in 1916 an attempt is made to blow up the pillar but the explosives fail to ignite due to dampness. It remains in the city as most of Ireland becomes the Irish Free State in 1922, and the Republic of Ireland in 1949. The chief legal barrier to its removal is the trust created at the Pillar’s inception, the terms of which gave the trustees a duty in perpetuity to preserve the monument. Successive Irish governments fail to deliver legislation overriding the trust. Although influential literary figures such as James Joyce, William Butler Yeats and Oliver St. John Gogarty defend the Pillar on historical and cultural grounds, pressure for its removal intensifies in the years preceding the 50th anniversary of the Rising, and its sudden demise is, on the whole, well received by the public. Although it is widely believed that the action is the work of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the police are unable to identify any of those responsible.

After years of debate and numerous proposals, the site is occupied in 2003 by the Spire of Dublin, a slim needle-like structure rising almost three times the height of the Pillar. In 2000 a former republican activist gives a radio interview in which he admits planting the explosives in 1966, but after questioning him the Gardaí decides not to take action. Relics of the Pillar are found in Dublin museums and appear as decorative stonework elsewhere, and its memory is preserved in numerous works of Irish literature.


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Birth of James Stephens, Novelist & Poet

istepja001p1James Stephens, Irish novelist and poet, is born in Dublin on February 9, 1880.

Stephens’ mother works in the home of the Collins family of Dublin and is adopted by them. He is committed to the Meath Protestant Industrial School for Boys as a small child and spends his childhood there. He attends school with his adopted brothers Thomas and Richard before graduating as a solicitor’s clerk. He is known affectionately in school as “Tiny Tim” due to his 4’10” stature. He is much enthralled by the tales of military valour of his adoptive family and would have become a soldier if not for his height.

By the early 1900s Stephens is increasingly inclined to socialism and the Irish language and by 1912 is a dedicated Irish Republican. He is a close friend of the 1916 Easter Rising leader Thomas MacDonagh, who is then editor of The Irish Review and deputy headmaster in St. Enda’s School, the radical bilingual school run by Patrick Pearse. His growing nationalism brings a schism with his adopted family, but probably wins him his job as registrar in the National Gallery of Ireland, where he works between 1915 and 1925, having previously had an ill-paid job with the Mecredy solicitors’ firm.

Stephens produces many retellings of Irish myths and fairy tales. His retellings are marked by a rare combination of humour and lyricism. He also writes several original novels, The Crock of Gold, Etched in Moonlight and Demi-Gods, based loosely on Irish fairy tales. The Crock of Gold in particular has achieved enduring popularity and has often been reprinted.

Stephens begins his career as a poet under the tutelage of “Æ” (George William Russell). His first book of poems, Insurrections, is published in 1909. His last book, Kings and the Moon (1938), is also a volume of verse.

Stephens’s influential account of the 1916 Easter Rising, Insurrection in Dublin, describes the effect of the deaths by execution of his friend Thomas MacDonagh and others as being “like watching blood oozing from under a door.” Of MacDonagh he writes:

No person living is the worse off for having known Thomas MacDonagh, and I, at least, have never heard MacDonagh speak unkindly or even harshly of anything that lived. It has been said of him that his lyrics were epical ; in a measure it is true, and it is true in the same measure that his death was epical. He was the first of the leaders who was tried and shot.

Stephens lives between Paris, London and Dublin. During the 1930s he is a friend of James Joyce, and they mistakenly believe that they share a birthday. Joyce, who is concerned about his ability to finish what later becomes Finnegans Wake, proposes that Stephens assist him, with the authorship credited to JJ & S, short “Jameses Joyce & Stephens,” but also a pun on the popular Irish whiskey made by John Jameson & Sons. The plan is never implemented, as Joyce is able to complete the work on his own.

During the last decade of Stephens’ life he finds a new audience through a series of broadcasts on the BBC. He dies at Eversleigh on Saint Stephen’s Day, December 26, 1950.

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Birth of Actress Fionnghuala Flanagan

fionnula-flanaganFionnghuala Manon “Fionnula” Flanagan, Irish actress and political activist, is born in Dublin on December 10, 1941.

Flanagan is the daughter of Rosanna (née McGuirk) and Terence Niall Flanagan, an Irish Army officer and Communist who had fought in the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War against General Francisco Franco. Although her parents are not Irish speakers, they want Fionnula and her four siblings to learn the Irish language, thus she grows up speaking English and Irish fluently. She is educated in Switzerland and England. She trains extensively at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and travels throughout Europe before settling in Los Angeles, California in early 1968.

Flanagan comes to prominence in Ireland in 1965 as a result of her role as Máire in the Telefís Éireann production of the Irish language play An Triail, for which she receives the Jacob’s Award in Dublin for her “outstanding performance.” With her portrayal of Gerty McDowell in the 1967 film version of Ulysses, she establishes herself as one of the foremost interpreters of James Joyce. She makes her Broadway debut in 1968 in Brian Friel‘s Lovers, then appears in The Incomparable Max (1971) and such Joycean theatrical projects as Ulysses in Nighttown and James Joyce’s Women (1977-1979), a one-woman show written by Flanagan and directed for the stage by Burgess Meredith. It is subsequently filmed in 1983, with Flanagan both producing and playing all six main female roles.

Flanagan is a familiar presence in American television, as she has appeared in several made-for-TV movies including The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975) starring Elizabeth Montgomery, Mary White (1977), The Ewok Adventure (1984) and A Winner Never Quits (1986). She wins an Emmy Award for her performance as Clothilde in the 1976 network miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man. Her weekly-series stints include Aunt Molly Culhane in How the West Was Won (1977), which earns her a second Emmy Award nomination. She does multiple appearances on Murder, She Wrote. She plays Lt. Guyla Cook in Hard Copy (1987), and as Kathleen Meacham, wife of a police chief played by John Mahoney in H.E.L.P. (1990).

Flanagan makes guest appearances in three of the Star Trek spin-offsStar Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Dax,” Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Inheritance,” and Star Trek: Enterprise episode “Fallen Hero.”

Flanagan guest-stars in several episodes of Lost as Eloise Hawking, a recurring character. She appears in such films as The Others opposite Nicole KidmanDivine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood as the eldest Teensy, and Waking Ned. She appears in television series and stage productions including the Emmy-nominated miniseries Revelations, starring Bill Pullman and Natascha McElhone, and in Transamerica, starring Felicity Huffman. From 2006–08, she plays Rose Caffee, the matriarch of an Irish-American Rhode Island family on the Showtime drama Brotherhood.

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Birth of Christopher Nolan, Irish Poet & Author

Christopher Nolan, Irish poet and author, is born to parents Joseph and Bernadette Nolan in Mullingar, County Westmeath on September 6, 1965.

Due to asphyxiation at birth, Nolan is born with permanent impairment of his nerve-signaling system, a condition now labelled dystonia. Because of these complications, Nolan is born with cerebral palsy and can only move his head and eyes. Due to the severity of the cerebral palsy, he uses a wheelchair. In an interview, his father, Joseph, explains how, at the age of 10, he is placed on medication that “relaxed him so he could use a pointer attached to his head to type.” To write, Nolan uses a special computer and keyboard. In order to help him type, his mother holds his head in her cupped hands while Christopher painstakingly picks out each word, letter by letter, with a pointer attached to his forehead.

He communicates with others by moving his eyes, using a signal system. When he is young, his father tells him stories and reads passages from James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and D.H. Lawrence to keep his mind stimulated. His mother strings up letters of the alphabet in the kitchen, where she keeps up a stream of conversation. His sister, Yvonne, sings songs and acts out skits. His mother stated that “he wrote extensively since the age of 11 and went on to write many poems, short stories and two plays, many of which were published.” Many of the writings are compiled for his first publication, the chapbook Dam-Burst of Dreams.

Upon becoming a teenager, Nolan receives his education from the Central Remedial Clinic School, Mount Temple Comprehensive School and at Trinity College, Dublin. His first book is published at the age of fifteen. He is also awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters in the U.K., the medal of excellence from the United Nations Society of Writers, and a Person of the Year award in Ireland. He writes an account of his childhood, Under the Eye of the Clock, published by St. Martin’s Press, which wins him the U.K.’s Whitbread Book of the Year Award in 1987 at the age of 21. He soon drops out of Trinity College to write a novel entitled The Banyan Tree (1999).

Nolan spends more than a decade writing The Banyan Tree. According to The New York Times, the book is a multigenerational story of a dairy-farming family in Nolan’s native county of Westmeath. The story is seen through the eyes of the aging mother. It is inspired, he tells Publishers Weekly, by the image of “an old woman holding up her skirts as she made ready to jump a rut in a field.” A review of the book is done in The New York Times by Meghan O’Rourke. She reviews the book and relates it to James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in the story the protagonist leaves his mother in Ireland while he moves on to travel the world. Nolan however, gives the reader a version of the mother’s story. “And so, in the end, one suspects that he wants Minnie’s good-natured, commonplace ways to stand as their own achievement, reminding us that life continues in the places left behind.”

At the age of 43, while working on a new novel, Christopher Nolan dies in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin at 2:30 AM on February 20, 2009. His death is the result of a piece of salmon becoming trapped in his airway. However, nothing from the novel he was working on has been released since his death.

Upon hearing the news of Nolan’s death, President of Ireland Mary McAleese says, “Christopher Nolan was a gifted writer who attained deserved success and acclaim throughout the world for his work, his achievements all the more remarkable given his daily battle with cerebral palsy.”

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The Censorship of Publications Act

The Censorship of Publications Act is passed on July 16, 1929. The laws enacted by the Censorship of Publications Act, 1929 are introduced in an era of political isolationism and cultural and economic protectionism. Ireland’s culture is very moral and religious. Catholicism, the religion of 93% of the population, is the fundamental philosophy behind the censorship laws.

A main aim of the new legislation is to prevent the introduction of unwholesome foreign influences like materialism, consumerism and immorality from abroad. Specifically, this means works that are considered to be indecent or obscene, newspapers whose content relies too much on crime, and works that promote the “unnatural” prevention of conception or that advocate abortion. Irish writers who are found offensive are officially regarded as agents of decadence and social disintegration who are striking at the roots of family life and moral decency. For example, Father P.J. Gannon thinks that the Act is “but a simple measure of moral hygiene, forced upon the Irish public by a veritable spate of filth never surpassed.” He thinks that all literature must provide “noble ground for noble emotion.” President Éamon de Valera feels that the arts in Ireland are to be encouraged when they observe the “holiest traditions,” but should be censored when they fail to live up to this ideal.

Although the new laws are typical of censorship laws in many other countries in the 1920s and 1930s, they are implemented with an eagerness which gradually alienates and embitters many Irish writers. It causes some writers to leave the country. The author Mervyn Wall explains that during the 1930s there is “a general intolerant attitude to writing, painting and sculpture. These were thought dangerous, likely to corrupt faith and morals…One encountered frequently among ordinary people bitter hostility to writers…Obscurantism had settled on the country like a fog, so of course anyone who had eyes to see and the heart to feel, was rebellious.”

The Academy of Letters established by William Butler Yeats attempts to fight censorship with solidarity among writers, but it achieves little in this field. The fight against literary censorship is fought mainly by isolated figures. Seán Ó Faoláin, perhaps the most vociferous critic of the censorship laws, writes, “Our Censorship…tries to keep the mind in a state of perpetual adolescence in the midst of all the influences that must, in spite of it, pour in from the adult world.”

Among the first thirteen books to be banned, announced in the Iris Oifigúil in May 1930, are Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley, The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall and several books on sex and marriage by Margaret Sanger and Marie Stopes. Surprisingly, none of James Joyce‘s writings are ever banned by the Board, while copies of his works are burned by the British Customs, and Ulysses is banned in the United States for several years.

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Birth of Playwright & Poet Samuel Barclay Beckett

Samuel Barclay Beckett, avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, and poet, is born on Good Friday, April 13, 1906, in Foxrock, Dublin. His father, William Frank Beckett, works in the construction business and his mother, Maria Jones Roe, is a nurse. Beckett attends Earlsfort House School in Dublin and then, at age 14, he goes to Portora Royal School, the same school attended by Oscar Wilde. He receives his Bachelor’s degree from Trinity College, Dublin in 1927. In his youth he periodically experiences severe depression keeping him in bed until mid-day. This experience later influences his writing.

In 1928, Beckett finds a welcome home in Paris where he meets and becomes a devoted student of James Joyce. In 1931, he embarks on a restless sojourn through Great Britain, France and Germany. He writes poems and stories and does odd jobs to support himself. On his journey, he comes across many individuals who inspire some of his most interesting characters.

In 1937, Beckett settles in Paris. Shortly thereafter, he is stabbed by a pimp after refusing his solicitations. While recovering in the hospital, he meets Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnuil, a piano student in Paris. The two become life-long companions and eventually marry. After meeting with his attacker, Beckett drops the charges, partly to avoid the publicity.

During World War II, Beckett’s Irish citizenship allows him to remain in Paris as a citizen of a neutral country. He fights in the resistance movement until 1942 when members of his group are arrested by the Gestapo. He and Suzanne flee to the unoccupied zone until the end of the war.

After the war, Beckett is awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery during his time in the French resistance. He settles in Paris and begins his most prolific period as a writer. In five years, he writes Eleutheria, Waiting for Godot, Endgame, the novels Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, and Mercier et Camier, two books of short stories, and a book of criticism.

Beckett’s first publication, Molloy, enjoys modest sales, but more importantly praise from French critics. Soon, Waiting for Godot, achieves quick success at the small Theatre de Babylone putting Beckett in the international spotlight. The play runs for 400 performances and enjoys critical praise.

Beckett writes in both French and English, but his most well-known works, written between World War II and the 1960s, are written in French. Early on he realizes his writing has to be subjective and come from his own thoughts and experiences. His works are filled with allusions to other writers such as Dante Alighieri, René Descartes, and James Joyce. Beckett’s plays are not written along traditional lines with conventional plot and time and place references. Instead, he focuses on essential elements of the human condition in dark humorous ways. This style of writing has been called “Theater of the Absurd” by Martin Esslin, referring to poet Albert Camus’ concept of “the absurd.” The plays focus on human despair and the will to survive in a hopeless world that offers no help in understanding.

The 1960s are a period of change for Beckett. He finds great success with his plays across the world. Invitations come to attend rehearsals and performances which lead to a career as a theater director. In 1961, he secretly marries Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnuil who takes care of his business affairs. A commission from the BBC in 1956 leads to offers to write for radio and cinema through the 1960s.

Beckett continues to write throughout the 1970s and 1980s, mostly in a small house outside Paris. There he can give total dedication to his art evading publicity. In 1969, he is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, though he declines accepting it personally to avoid making a speech at the ceremonies. However, he should not be considered a recluse. He often times meets with other artists, scholars and admirers to talk about his work.

By the late 1980s, Beckett is in failing health and is moved to a small nursing home. His wife Suzanne dies in July 1989. His life is confined to a small room where he receives visitors and writes. He dies on December 22, 1989, in a hospital of respiratory problems just months after his wife.

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Founding of the American Irish Historical Society

american-irish-historical-societyThe American Irish Historical Society (AIHS), a historical society devoted to Irish American history, is founded in Boston on January 20, 1897. In continuous operation since its founding, the Society has been non-partisan and non-sectarian since its inception. The Society is founded as a response to the establishment in 1889 of the Scotch-Irish Society.

AIHS is relocated to New York City in 1904 by T. H. Murray, then serving as Society’s Secretary-General. Perhaps the most notable member of AIHS at the time is President Theodore Roosevelt. The Society’s formal purpose is “to place permanently on record the story of the Irish in America from the earliest settlement to the present day, justly, impartially, fully, and sympathetically correcting neglect and misrepresentation by certain historians of the part taken in the founding, upbuilding and safeguarding of the Nation by persons of Irish birth and descent.” Notable members through the years have included politician William Bourke Cockran, tenor John McCormack, New York Governor Hugh Carey, and performer/composer George M. Cohan. In 1940, the Society moves its headquarters to a Beaux-Arts townhouse at 991 Fifth Avenue in New York City opposite the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The AIHS remains at this location today.

The Society hosts cultural and historical events, publishes a journal entitled The Recorder, and annually awards a Gold Medal to an Irish-American or Irish-national of significant accomplishment. Past honorees have included Bono, George J. Mitchell, Mary Higgins Clark, Wilbur Ross, Michael J. Dowling, and Robert McCann.

During the holiday season of 2016, AIHS is home to the Irish Repertory Theatre‘s production of The Dead, 1904. The show is an adaptation of James Joyce‘s The Dead, by novelist Jean Hanff Korelitz and her husband, Irish poet, Paul Muldoon.